Martha Kearney on ‘Jackgate’

by Stephen Tall on August 4, 2007

Here’s what the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s The World at One says about the programme’s focus on the Lib Dem leadership this week:

The Ealing by-election had been seen as a test of Sir Menzies Campbell’s leadership and there was relief in Cowley Street that the party didn’t do badly. But it certainly wasn’t the spectacular result that the Liberal Democrats have been famed for in the past and a BBC analysis of the last four months’ opinion polls show that the party has dropped from an average of 21% in April to 17% in July which must be especially disappointing given the Conservative problems over the same period.

That brings me onto “Jackgate”, as it is being called by some in the Lib Dem blogosphere. (We are devoted to political research on WATO). On Tuesday and Wednesday our producers spent many hours talking to MPs, councillors and activists. Some acknowledged that the pressure on Ming Campbell had lifted since the by-elections but others were still very unhappy with the party’s performance and blamed him though there is no appetite for a leadership contest.
Most were unwilling to talk publicly including Linda Jack, a member of the party’s policy committee.

She then called us back and said she had spoken to a number of people who felt as she did and so decided to come on the programme to say this: “I think Ming was a brilliant shadow foreign secretary, but in terms of his leadership style he hasn’t captured the imagination of the party or the country. Unfortunately it’s the case where he has perhaps been over-promoted. Someone can be a brilliant man and have incredible intellectual powers and all the rest of it but if that doesn’t translate in to leadership skills then – whoever your leader is – you’ve got a problem with them.”

The party’s deputy leader Vince Cable dismissed the charges and the poll drop, but did concede that Liberal Democrats needed to do more to communicate their policies.